of the Old Tasmanian Bushmen
and researcher Col Bailey (Tasmanian Tiger Research & Data Centre)
has kindly written the following historical presentation for the Thylacine
Museum. Bailey discusses the lives of Tasmania's old bushmen, with
particular focus on their experiences with the thylacine.
Tasmanian bushmen, circa
1900. Courtesy: Moeller Archives.
The island state of Tasmania is lush with vast areas of natural bush, this
adding a certain mystique to the term "bushman".
"Tasmanian bushman" is a name that immediately conjures up images of hardy
old timers who could turn their hands to any one of a number of occupational
pursuits, from timber cutting to snaring for skins, and from mineral prospecting
to cutting tracks.
The bushmen featured in this presentation are those who were closely connected
with the mining, trapping and snaring community in the early to middle
years of last century, as well as those who made their living harvesting
pine in far-flung areas of Tasmania. These men required a sturdy
constitution and resilient nature to withstand the vagaries of weather,
along with the many unseen dangers lurking in the unforgiving wilderness
of the Tasmanian bush. There were literally hundreds of these old
bushmen the length and breadth of the island; some well known, others less
photograph of prospector, amateur botanist and geologist Thomas Bather
Moore (1850-1919), taken on the Corduroy track in Western Tasmania in 1900.
Moore was around 50 years old at this time. Courtesy: Moeller Archives.
I have chosen some of the better known characters; those renowned for their
ability to mine, harvest, trap, snare or shoot made them household names
in their respective districts and beyond. Many of these bushmen knew
the Tasmanian tiger first hand, and as the opportunity presented itself,
I interviewed many of them before they passed on. Others were before
my time, and because of this I have mainly selected bushmen from the early
to middle years of the twentieth century.
During the duration of the government bounty, a 20-year period which ran
from 1888 to 1908 (although bounties continued to be paid into 1909 for
kills from the previous year), some 2184 Tasmanian tigers were slain for
the one pound sterling reward. Many others were presented to local
stock protection schemes, so the overall total would have been well in
excess of the government figure.
That was, until in the early 1950s, when a
young scientist named Eric Guiler undertaking thylacine research for the
University of Tasmania ventured into what was then a virtual no-man's land.
Guiler accomplished what no one else had been capable of; winning the confidence
of several members of the clan, namely Herb Pearce, and in doing so was
able to tap into the vast amount of previously unknown practical information
on the Tasmanian tiger. It was tantamount to discovering a lost tribe.
Tucked away deep in the Central Highlands in an isolation that almost defied
description were a reticent, self-contained group of true blue backwoodsmen,
the Pearce clan, of the Black Bobs, Strickland, Clarence River and Derwent
Bridge areas. The Lyell Highway (then commonly called the West Coast
Road) opened in 1932, but did not exist back in the thylacine bounty days.
There were no made roads into that isolated wilderness, only bullock
tracks that were all but impassable for much of the time owing to the
heavy yearly rainfall. Snow and ice fell even in the middle of summer,
and life was as tough as it could possibly be on this very frontier of
These hardy bushmen
kept mainly to themselves; they weren't partial to strangers or government
officials dropping in from what they considered the "outside world", and
because of this, little was actually known about them.
Tasmanian bushman. Source: State Library of Tasmania, PH 30 1 4846.
Herb Pearce had claimed
bounty on no less than forty-six "tigers", while his relatives down the
road made claims on another twenty-five; most taken in the area to the
east of the King William Saddle and now under the hydro Lake King William.
The Pearce clan were principally shepherds and sheep graziers. They
considered the tiger a threat to their livelihood, so they had to go -
and they killed many. There was apparently no love lost on "those
bloody useless things", as Herb Pearce stated to Eric Guiler in 1953.